We have toured a lot of churches in Europe. A whole lot. And I love each and every one of them. Most of these churches, abbeys and cathedrals are old. Some are ancient. All are magnificent. But sadly many seem to be more like museums than active places of worship. Some don’t even have regular services – maybe two or three Sundays per month. And some of the congregations seem as old as some of the buildings.
These churches, abbeys and cathedrals represent centuries of Christian worship that time has seemed to have forgotten. Why? How can so many of these grand structures be empty, hollow remnants of their former glory? Where are the faithful?
My workmates marvel at my Catholicism. And further, they have the notion that most folks in the United States are very religious and avid church-goers. Not quite sure where they got that impression. They are more curious than disrespectful of my beliefs; however the comments by some veer toward contempt. “No Church would tell me how to live!”
So when touring these beautiful sanctuaries and contemplating the lack of public displays of faith I am conflicted. Did people grow tired of a Church that was more interested in control than service? Did the Church focus their attention more on the ‘haves’ than the ‘have-nots’? Did common folk grow weary of trying to walk in lock-step with a hierarchy that was increasingly out of touch with their lives and needs?
I believe that in our American Catholic Church today we risk alienation of millions of faithful by increasingly focusing on our “worthiness” and forgetting the real message of Jesus. After all the Church is us – the faithful; not just the priests, bishops and cardinals. The Church should embrace all of us; not exclude us because we may have listened to our consciences and made informed decisions that might not be in keeping with strict church teaching. Let us not forget that God has gifted us with intellect. Sometimes discernment means more than just following the rules.
And finally, never forget the power of love. Love unites us, heals our wounds, and binds our hearts. And love should influence all of the decisions in our lives. Let’s fill our churches, abbeys, and cathedrals with love. Then perhaps they won’t someday become little more than curiosities.
To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name. ~Thomas Merton